Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Alvaro Villela Exhibit: Human Nature in Raso da Catarina

December 3rd, 2009 - December 30th, 2009
Monday - Friday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Location
Jazz & Heritage Gallery
1205 North Rampart St
New Orleans, LA 70116

PhotoNola: An Annual Celebration of Photography in New Orleans

Opening: Thursday, Dec 3, 6-8 pm

Human Nature in Raso da Catarina

The first I ever heard about Raso da Catarina was a story of desert, sand and thorn forest, a wilderness without water or mercy. In November 2005 I flew over it by helicopter as a guest of IBAMA, the national environmental protection agency. Seen from the air, the mostly leaden landscape with swathes of red sand was gut-wrenching. As I gazed down at the parched and contorted vastness of this sliver of the heartlands of Northeast Brazil, I was in no doubt why its climate is officially classified as semi-arid, or almost desert: it really was death valley down there.

In October 2006, once CHESF had approved the project for the book, I went to Paulo Afonso to set up the logistics required for the challenge of entering Raso da Catarina. I had to tackle many difficulties, such as finding an experienced guide. Even locating a four-wheel-drive vehicle was harder than expected. It took two months to prepare the expedition, including the search for people and information sources that could reveal the secrets guarded by the place Guimarães Rosa called “the worst desert there is, a wasteland from hell” (in Grande Sertão: Veredas, referring to the fictional Liso do Sussuarão).

Our first sortie into the daunting Raso da Catarina took place in January 2007. Pedro was our guide, driver, cook and factotum. Better known as a farmer, Pedro is a retired employee of CHESF and a connoisseur of the trails and byways that lead into this region, the harshest in the sertão, a godforsaken outback where a goat will often climb on another goat’s back to reach something edible.

Daytime temperatures in the thornbush- and cactus-covered steppe are never less than 40C (104F). Even the teju, a large lizard that loves heat, takes cover in the shade of the desiccated amburana or burrows down into the hot sand until it finds a little humidity, emerging only at night when the temperature falls, as in any desert, to about 15C (60F).

But this eerie place is a paradise for the Pankararé. The gateway to Raso da Catarina is Brejo do Burgo, a village of some 500 Pankararé families in the most humid part of the Indian reservation. They came here after whites evicted them from the banks of the São Francisco. When a water source was discovered at Brejo and the indigenous land was demarcated, many Pankararé who had become acculturated to white society decided to return and settle in the region. While acculturation remains evident, they try to continue preserving their ancestral customs. Rites performed at the sacred Amaro Stone include dancing the Toré and Praiá in adoration of the “Enchanted”, tiny dark-skinned creatures who protect nature. These dances are the acme of indigenous tradition and a cornerstone of the tribe’s cultural identity.

But we found the essence of life in Raso da Catarina at Baixa do Chico, an even smaller and poorer village than Brejo. Here we met Lino, son of the patriarch Saturnino, and his family of some 50 Pankararé. Although Baixa do Chico is the only inhabited place in Raso da Catarina, it’s hardly what you would call an oasis. Confronted by the dusty, scrubby scenery, humble dwellings, desolate church, and expressions of hardship and distrust on local faces, we could easily imagine ourselves back in some past century if it had not been for two pairs of Havaianas rubber sandals and the threadbare jeans worn by one of the headscarved women. But that was only our first impression. The once unworldly peasants of Baixa do Chico have been changed for ever by the two daily hours of television to which they are submitted, quite happily it must be said. A diesel generator supplies enough electricity to power the only TV set in the village from 6-8 p.m. The same generator also drives the pump that pipes water from a 250-meter well to all nine homes in the village.

Over the ensuing months I got to the know the Pankararé well, not least thanks to a productive mutual learning process that included talking about my photographs and holding workshops for children and adults to teach them photography.

Humankind’s immense capacity to survive and be happy is put to the test in these parts. Everything points to the impossibility of living here, but the children’s delightful hubbub as they play the most innocent games, leisurely conversations in the shade of a big tree, partying when a goat is killed to feed a family or grilled armadillo is prepared, all this made me see the minimalism of life in the sertão. A little is a lot: that’s the essence of life in Raso da Catarina.

Region of fables and fairy tales to which children listen in awe, territory of wild horses, magical beings and animals reputed extinct, Raso da Catarina is also famous as Lampião’s hiding-place and is said to bear the name of Baroness Catarina, who hid a treasure there, lost her way, and died of thirst. So the region is named for a woman, like an American hurricane.

Once upon a time even Petrobras was interested in Raso da Catarina, surveying the region for oil in the 1960s. The engineers bored holes, used explosives and carved roads everywhere, paving the way for hunters who literally fell upon the local wildlife. In the 1980s Raso da Catarina almost became a nuclear waste disposal site.

The quintessence of the sertão is precisely here in Raso da Catarina, marked by the signs of social banditry led by Lampião and of the messianism spearheaded by Antônio Conselheiro. Time here passes far more slowly. Unlike any nature reserve, Raso da Catarina melds fantasy and reality so closely that they can no longer be distinguished from each other. Headless mules and fire snakes, for example, stalk the territory freely, and shades of rifle-toting cangaceiros spook the mounts of unwary cowhands. Power pylons sprout from the ground like the mandacaru cactus in winter, and high-voltage cables are entwined with the misshapen vegetation. The region sustains more than geographical splendor and endangered wildlife. It is the last refuge for one of the best protected treasures of the sertão, a wealth that neither glitters nor can be touched: the ancestral memories of the sertanejo. It conserves places where an old man’s eyes sparkle when someone says this was once the sea and shells can still be found in the soil. Some remember travelers who lost their way and never returned. A boy squatting at his front door while playing with dry corn cobs tells stories of Lampião’s heroic deeds and stratagems for outwitting the government troops. There is a grain of truth in all these tales, because solitude makes fantasy a haven.

- Alvaro Villela

Alvaro Villela is a Brazilian photographer who lives in Salvador, Bahia.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Location:

Jazz & Heritage Gallery
1205 North Rampart St
New Orleans, LA 70116
10 am – 4 pm, Mon – Fri
504-558-6100

View the Event on the PhotoNola Website

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Equity Thursdays Series to host talk on racism and immigration in the U.S.

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On Thursday, October 18, join the Community Engagement Advocates, the Tulane University Center for Public Service and the Office of Multicultural Affairs for a talk titled Racism & Immigration in The US as part of the Equity Thursday series.

The conversation around immigration in the United States is arguably as pertinent right now as any time in U.S. history. And yet, immigration has been a constant theme and thread throughout U.S. history, from colonization of indigenous lands, to Westward expansion and “Manifest Destiny”, to the notion of a “Melting Pot.” And while we may learn about certain events in school and popular culture, how much do we really know about the history of racism and immigration? How do these histories connect with and influence our experiences today? How did immigration policies shape how we got here?

We invite participants to join us as we walk together through an Incomplete Timeline of Racism and Immigration, followed by a dialogue.
Lunch will be provided!

For more information and to register, visit OrgSync.

Equity Thursdays offer weekly presentations by members of the Tulane University community and invited guests from Greater New Orleans. Faculty, Students, Staff, Alumni and Friends share information regarding topics of academic access. The sessions discuss cutting edge research, distinctive academic opportunities and offer a forum for reflection on the intersection of identity and the academic experience. Students, faculty, and staff are welcome to participate in Equity Thursdays and join the Center for Academic Equity community.

Medical anthropologist Dr. Torres-Velez to present research on responses to environmental and public health changes in Puerto Rico

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Join the Office of Research at Tulane University in welcoming Dr. Víctor M. Torres-Velez, who will be presenting in his research in a talk titled, Racializing Space: the Enviro-embodied Poetics of Bare Life in the Age of Neoliberalism on Thursday, October 18.

Dr. Torres-Velez received his bachelors from the University of Puerto Rico (1996) and his Masters (2003) and Ph.D. (2007) from Michigan State University. He is currently affiliated with the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at City University of New York. He is a critical medical anthropologist by training, who specializes in gender, justice and environmental change. Dr. Torres-Vélez’ interdisciplinary theoretical expertise and interests are diverse. Some of these include: political ecology, development theories, theories of social change, transnationalism, science and technology studies, visual anthropology and contemporary and classical theory. Dr. Torres-Vélez’ regional focus is Latin America and the Caribbean, with an emphasis in Puerto Rico. Dr. Torres-Vélez’ research explores people’s responses to drastic environmental and public health changes. Particularly, how people make sense of health problems in contexts environmental pollution and widespread chronic diseases. His emphasis on embodied meaning-making practices is used to decipher the triggers behind the emergence of environmental social movements. His more recent work focuses on the racialized spaces of capital as related to some of the cause(s) and consequential impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. While Dr. Torres-Vélez’ research in Vieques, Puerto Rico, contributes to Puerto Rican and Latin American studies in particular, his research insights provider a broader illustration of similar processes that affect people and places globally.

CIPR post-doctoral fellow Christopher Chambers-Ju to present on labor politics and teacher mobilization in Latin America

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Tulane University’s department of Political Science in association with the Murphy Institute and the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research is proud to begin the 2018-19 Political Science Seminar series with a presentation by Christopher Chambers-Ju titled, Varieties of Labor Politics: Teacher Mobilization in Latin America on Friday, October 19.

Dr. Christopher Chambers-Ju received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. His research examines the politics of education through a focus on teachers’ unions. Studying the cases of Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, he examines why some teachers take to the streets while others form an organized voting bloc, with distinct relationships to political parties. By focusing on teachers, Christopher seeks to shed light on broader dynamics of education policy-making and political change in contemporary Latin America. Dr. Chambers-Ju is currently a post-doctoral fellow with the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research.

9th Annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica

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The 9th annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica will be hosted by the University of Texas San Antonio and the San Antonio Museum of Art on October 19 through October 21, 2018. The South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica is a regional conference that provides a venue to bring together scholars in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, art history, and others, as well as the general public, to share information and interpretations on current research focused on the cultures of the Mesoamerican region.

The keynote address will be given by Dr. Vera Tiesler, who has been a research professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico for nearly 20 years. Her academic interest lies in illuminating the human conditions of the Maya and of past society, by correlating data gleaned from human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts with information from other material and documentation. In her keynote address Ancient Maya Life, Death, and Identities: A View from Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico, Dr. Tiesler will discuss perceptions of life and death of the Yucatecan Maya prior to and during the rise of the ancient city of Chichén Itzá. This northern cultural arena is poorly understood compared to other regions of the Maya kingdoms. Tiesler anchors her explorations of ancient Northern Maya Lowlanders through examinations of the burial population at Yaxuná, another ancient urban center located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula and connected to Chichén Itzá by a causeway. The human remains unearthed during excavations provide valuable insight into everyday life, evolving social roles, collective identities, and manners of death experienced by Yucatec Maya. To reveal these mysteries, Tiesler combines several approaches, including bioarchaeology, mortuary archaeology, and artifact-based iconography. Her discussion will address the fate of individuals and neighborhoods, the regional trajectory that resulted in Yaxuná‘s rise, and then, ultimately, the city’s abandonment. She will conclude with thoughts on the advent of Chichén Itzá‘s political networks and what was perceived as a new cosmic era for the Maya.

During her career, Dr. Tiesler has conducted work on some 250 Maya burials. Her publications discuss living conditions and lifestyle among Maya social classes, social aspects of age and gender, physical appearance and body enhancement, violence, sacrifice, and ancestor veneration. Dr. Tiesler recently published her findings from Yaxuná in the book Before Kukulkán: Bioarchaeology of Maya Life, Death, and Identity at Classic Period Yaxuná (University of Arizona Press).

All conference events will be held at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The conference is free and open to the public.

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Registration for the 9th Annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica is now open. To register please fill out the registration form.

Schedule of Events

Friday, October 19
Keynote Address
Ancient Maya Life, Death, and Identities: A View from Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico
Dr. Vera Tiesler

Saturday, October 21
Screening of Out of the Maya Tombs
Panel Discussion lead by David Lebrun, Michelle Rich, and Jason Yaeger

Saturday October 20 – Sunday, October 21
Paper Presentations

Forging a New World: Books & Writing in Early Spanish America, 1492-1821

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On Wednesday, November 14, the Latin American Library at Tulane University will host Dr. Hortensia Calvo, Doris Stone Director of the Latin American Library, for a talk titled, Forging a New World: Books & Writing in Early Spanish America, 1492-1821.

This presentation is part of the Tulane University Women’s Association’s Jane and Herbert Longenecker Lecture Series. The event is dedicated to María García Daly.

La Hora del Cuento: Fall Bilingual Story Hour at the Pebbles Center

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This fall, join us for La hora del cuenta bilingual readings series at the Pebbles Centers of the New Orleans Public Libraries!

On the first and last Saturday of every month, we will read a bilingual book at the Algiers Regional Library and the Children’s Resource Center Library beginning on Saturday, August 25 until Saturday, December 29. Children and parents are welcome!

Story Hours Dates and Locations

Algiers Regional Branch
Saturday, September 1
10:30 AM

Saturday, October 6
10:30 AM

Saturday, November 3
10:30 AM

Saturday, December 1
10:30 AM

Children’s Resource Center Library
Saturday, August 25
10:30 AM

Saturday, September 22
10:30 AM

Saturday, October 27
10:30 AM

Saturday, November 24
10:30 AM

Saturday, December 29
10:30 AM